The ideal length of the average chapter is a concept the eludes many an established author… and we’re just some scrubs on the internet.
This is something I’ve been really thinking a lot about lately. To the point where it’s influenced how we’re approaching our work, going forward. It’s especially apparent with the likes of Burning Sky, but I’ve noticed it with EXTRA as well. I am a longwinded writer. I don’t like the minimalistic style that one typically associates with webnovels. It just doesn’t afford me the time to tell the story in the way that I want to tell it. Which delves a lot into details and observation. The catch is that my ideas are often much too grand to realistically try to approach from the standpoint of a traditionally published novel. In that format, Burning Sky wouldn’t see completion until I and the rest of the team were old and grey. I have other stories in me that I want to tell. And love Burning Sky though I may, that’s just not something I wanna have to be dealing with for the rest of my natural life. So what, then, do I do?
Burning Sky is long. It’s a globetrotting, multi-genre, adventure epic. A tale of prejudice, war, and lots and lots and lots of characters. But full disclosure. We recognized ages ago that it wasn’t going to be sustainable to keep writing it the way we started out. So we agreed that after the first storyline, the one in which all is being set up, we’re going to be dialing it back a bit. One shouldn’t get used to the style you’re getting out of Burning Sky Prelude – the lengthy chapters, of which there aren’t many. The story gradually transitions away from that, in fact, after the first storyline of the main series. Because we knew trying to write that much would kill us, given how long a series it actually is. Subsequent storylines substitute that style with shorter chapters, of which there are more. At the same time, we’re not going to sacrifice anything for style because we’ve settled on a way to have our cake and eat it, too. And for that, I have to start talking about EXTRA.
EXTRA is, at least for now, a passion project. It’s mine, and mine alone. And I eagerly await its release. But. I knew that if I tried to write it the same way we’ve been doing Burning Sky, I’d run myself into the ground. Still, I can’t do the minimalist thing. EXTRA needs to be introspective and take its time on thought and details. That’s the whole reason it exists. Meanwhile, I was already beating my head against the wall in regards to how I wanted to handle Burning Sky. And then I came across an idea. Manga. Specifically Shounen Jump and the way they tend to handle action series like Dragon Ball Z. “What if I borrowed from that style?” If, instead of even trying to approach the chapters from the standpoint of trying to tell the complete story of an event with each chapter, I just break key events into multiple chapters? And, spoiler alert, after the first story arc, that’s what I’m going to try to do with EXTRA. Now, it’s going to be an experiment. It may or may not work. But I’m genuinely excited to try it. And if it actually works and I find that I like it, we’re absolutely going to adopt this style for Burning Sky. It’ll let me still do my thing, for sure.
But that’s not all. There’s also the matter of the actual length of the story as a whole. Burning Sky doesn’t really have that issue. There’s a predetermined endpoint, absolutely. But much of what happens in the middle is sandbox territory. “What kind of fun things can we do with this world?” For the time being, three storylines are planned (note: Storylines, not story arcs. There are many planned story arcs) and we’re currently on the first one in terms of what we’re currently writing. I don’t really see a way in which those utilize this style. At least not with the first books. There’s just too much setup to do. But as we move into the second storyline, heck, possibly as early as the second books of the first one, we already have plans to start winding down. And that’s to say nothing of the third storyline where there are just going to be fewer books simultaneously, altogether. Now, there are other reasons for that. That’s certainly a situation where it’s sort of just a happy consequence of the overall story working out the way it does, rather than something we intended all along. But it definitely does leave us with a series that’s more sustainable in its writing, going forward, I think. Once we get over this initial hurdle (and me oh my, has it been a hurdle), I think we’ll settle into a nice groove for ourselves.
EXTRA is a different animal entirely, with a set endpoint, but the progression of the story is much more restricted. It isn’t some sandboxy “I made this world, now I’mma see how I can mess with it” type deal. It’s a story that has a very clear focus on a particular thing – Mio’s journey through high school whilst dealing with mental health issues, a system that isn’t really built/equipped to help her, and a society that treats her and those like her as invisibles. Even neverminding the latter portions of that, the fact that it follows one girl’s high school days automatically puts an actual timespan on the story. Her three years of high school. Boom. Something Burning Sky doesn’t have. That one’s very much a case of “we end it when we run out of ideas.”
It was a topic brought about in my head for a few reasons. Someone recently questioned our model of putting out a chapter every other week when many webnovel writers post daily. I didn’t really get into the details of it, but here’s the reason. We just can’t do that. Not right now. There’s too much story. Nevermind that we’re also working on a regular webshow and an anime blog. Burning Sky’s current format would, in absolutely no way, work with that kind of pace. In the near future? Perhaps. But certainly not now. Naturally, I’ve also been exploring other webnovels and their platforms. Among them the most obvious is Webnovel.com. And while looking at their creator platform, I noticed one of the deals would require daily uploads at a minimum of 1500 words per day. That… would be physically impossible. We would die. We would 100% die. 1500 words per day is nothing to me. I can do that in my sleep. But Burning Sky is initially 9 books. That is 13,500 – about a fourth of a typical full-length novel – in a day. Even divided between the three of us, that’s 4500 words per day, which just is not something we have the luxury of doing, right now. Not with the short fictions on top of that, the editing the would be required for quality’s sake, no. Absolutely not. And, oh, by the way, EXTRA exists. And Bulletoon. And our anime blog. And did I mention our day jobs? No. We would 1000% die. At least I certainly would. I’m the sole creator on two of those things, at the moment. Also, just as a reminder, that is a minimum of 1500 words. The chapters of Burning Sky Prelude all clock in at a minimum of 4000, themselves. No. It’s just not realistic.
So this is the approach we’re taking and that’s been the thought process involved. Looking to find a method that suits our style and lets us establish a nicer pace to our work while also producing more content that’s digestible and every bit as engaging as what we’ve been doing so far.
I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect chapter length. Much like a book, it should be as long as it needs to be. You need to consider the genre expectations and format. Online readers are much more likely to digest shorter chapters. Even paragraphs need to be shorter for digital copy.
My first series was a massive multi-genre series of novellas and it made it very hard to market it. It was effectively a dark fantasy, alternate history, vampire, zombie story with elements of folk lore. I’m in the process of rewriting them as epic fantasy novels. It’ll be easier to market then to a wider audience than trying the find the niche group that the original mess of genres would appeal to.
It was planned as 52 novellas. I’d written 26 first drafts and published 8 before I decided to rethink my approach. All of it will get reused, so it’s like a first, first draft.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a large project like that and the one you the going. It definitely helps to have smaller projects fit in between to keep your work in peoples minds. There is also a growing portion of readers that will wait until a series has finished before reading it. A product of the binge culture and people getting disappointed at unfinished works.
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I’m with ya. 100% I personally think the perfect chapter length is ultimately down to you and down to the story.
I personally, with reading, don’t much mind waiting but also don’t particularly mind binging. I think both methods, of course, have their upsides and drawbacks.
Burning Sky is just an enormous project and, like I said, we had that moment of “we should probably somewhat rethink this” pretty early on, so everything’s been pretty smooth sailing.
Thanks for your input! ^^
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No worries. Any time. I’m enjoying the scale of your project.
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Don’t worry about length of chapters. I finished a very long web novel recently called Worm and loved it. The chapters themselves had varying word lengths, but the longest where more then 10,000 words in length. It’s very long winded, but has an incredible story that needs it.
Isn’t it amazing how influential DBZ is in a story telling way?
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Not really worried about it for that purpose. It’s more of a consistency and frequency-of-content thing. We’re just trying it out. I’m actually in the process of writing now. wish me luck!
Hm? 10,000 isn’t that long, though, is it? It might be long for a webnovel I suppose. My main frame of reference – traditional novels – the average clocks in around 50,000-ish, which is about where the Burning Sky Prelude book clocks in. Even so, thanks for the encouragement! It’s nice hearing that more longwinded things do indeed have their place among that circle.
Yeah. DBZ is definitely a trend-setter in more ways than I think people actually tend to recognize. More than just codifying the “genre” that has become known as Battle Shounen, but also just a whole style of storytelling unto itself. It’s kind of incredible for a series that seems – and, let’s be honest, IS – incredibly simple.
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Oh, I should make something more clear. 10,000 words a chapter. Each chapter was attached to a part in which there were either 10 to 20 chapters each. It’s a very, very long saga about a character gaining a “quirk” per se and then looking at them as they go about hero and villain society, and much more then that. Worm is it’s name and it’s great.
Yup, DBZ is simple but it has some really strong emotional moments that can pull off some incredible character drama. A great template for a lot of good things.
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Ah. Okay, that makes a looot more sense, yeah XD
I’ll have to check that out!
Oh, absolutely. It’s one of those series that I actually think about quite a lot, which says a great deal about it. For all its simplicity, its told in a way that just naturally evokes interest in its elements.
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